Everyone has the right to feel safe and happy in the workplace. For most employees, work is often where they spend a huge chunk of their week.
However, for some people who are experiencing some form of bullying in the workplace, it can be a devastating and distressing environment that can affect not only their performance at work but also their emotional well-being.
All of this week (7th-11th Oct) is National Work Life Week, which is serving as an opportunity for employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work life balance.
In this short blog, we will look at the different ways bullying can take shape, when to seek legal advice and the responsibilities of an employer.
Although there is no ‘legal definition’ of bullying at work, it is defined by ACAS as, “… any unwanted behaviour that makes someone fell intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It is not always obvious or apparent to other and may happen in the workplace with employer’s awareness.”
Harassment is defined by the Equality Act 2010 as unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic that has the purpose of violating a person’s dignity or creating a hostile or intimidating environment. The protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
If you believe that you are being bullied at work, it is advisable to keep a diary of events and incidents. You should also check your company’s grievance procedure and discuss any issues you’re having with your employer or HR manager to see if a solution can be found in the first instance. In most cases, an employer will want to sort out any problems as soon as they are brought to their attention.
If the matter cannot be resolved informally, seek legal advice from an employment solicitor to discuss the options available to you.
You can lodge a formal grievance, which will be investigated by your employer. Your employer will then choose whether or not to uphold the grievance and you will be given the option to appeal.
Although you cannot make a claim directly for bullying at work, you could make a claim for constructive dismissal if you feel your employer is failing to act on a complaint of bullying or you do not feel they are taking you seriously and the mutual trust and confidence between you has broken down. Under these circumstances you may decide that it is untenable for you to continue in your role and resign.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of employees.
If an employer fails to protect the welfare on an employee, they can be in breach of that person’s individual employment contract.
In addition, if bullying is linked to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 this can lead to potential claims for unlawful discrimination and /or harassment.
As an employer, it is essential that clear boundaries, setting out what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace are set out in policies. These should be published and distributed to all members of staff, ensuring awareness.
Bullying in the workplace can have a huge impact, not only on employees, but on employers too. Employees may need to take extended periods of leave due to stress, morale may be low in the workplace and in the worst-case scenarios you may find yourself at an employment tribunal or in court.
As an employer it is vital that the management team and staff in your organisation are trained to recognise and deal with bullying, even subtle acts, and take steps to prevent them from happening or escalating in the future.
As an employer you should also encourage and foster a positive work environment which inspires your staff to perform to their best abilities and work efficiently.
Most importantly, do not ignore the signs of bullying in the workplace. Any complaints should be taken seriously and dealt with promptly.
SHU Law is a not-for-profit law firm and can provide free legal advice to employees and employers.